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Korea: Won't my real duodenum please stand up? Half of these foods' critics can't even stomach it...

I thought that with crab eggs and the one-week diet of kimchi-laden everything I would have had enough fodder for a whole encyclopedia of painful eating experiences, but that was before Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Week 2.

Monday night involved a dinner meeting with a future partner of the company. I showed up promptly at 6:30 at the lobby of my hotel, where two well-dressed men (one who would become my Gracious Host and a man who would become a main source of transportation) greeted me and proceeded to execute the business-card exchange for which I had been well prepared. The President of the company was waiting in his car, watching some television on his in-dashboard TV. We started chatting, and once I played my "I-speak-four-languages-and-went-to-an-Ivy-League-school" card (which I really, really hate playing and felt compelled to use twice in one week) the conversation took on a particularly interesting spin regarding culture, language and general internationality.

Dinner was at a very scenic restaurant, in a house with a beautiful garden of rocks and full of lush vegetation, where my gracious hosts treated me to what is known in Korea as the Royal Feast. The food was copious and by and large appetizing, kimchi made its appearance only sporadically and in smaller quantities, and the conversation (where the only two people who ever said anything were President and me) was intelligent, not at all strained, and void of platitudes.

When I got to my hotel, however, the memories of good food and conversation were eclipsed by the intense pain in my gut. It was as if two very husky men were clutching at my stomach and twisting in opposite directions. I found myself curled up into a ball in my underwear, trying to carry on a conversation online and clutching at my belly in the kind of pain that's so intense that it makes you want to cry but not worth a call to a doctor. I popped an industrial dose of Pepto Bismol tablets and got into bed.

Next morning I woke feeling much, much better. I looked at myself in the mirror, smiled at how ridiculous I must have looked, hands on my stomach and yelling "Mami!" (in Spanish, as should be done by anyone in any amount of intense pain), but the smile faded when I realized my mouth was completely black. Teeth black, lips black, tongue coated in black. I imagined it had something to do with the black bean paste that had opened up the meal the night before. (I carried this belief in the story I told until my friend Joan informed me that mouth blackening is a "harmless side effect of this beneficial medication," Pepto Bismol.) I was intensely thankful that lunch at the company cafeteria that day was bulgogi with rice.

And that was only Monday...


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